Thursday, September 30, 2010

Current Braves Playoff Scenarios

With the Padres' loss tonight at the hands of the Cubs (thank you Chicago!!), the Braves are in very good shape going into their 3-game series with the Phillies. The Padres are now 2 full games behind the Braves in the Wild Card race and Atlanta's magic number is just 2. With the Padres finishing up their season with 3 games at the Giants, there are only a limited number of final scenarios. Here's the situation:

Atlanta - 90-69
San Francisco - 91-68
San Diego - 88-71

Possible SD at SF outcomes:

SD sweeps = SD 91-71, SF 91-71
SD wins 2/3 = SD 90-72, SF 92-70
SF wins 2/3 = SD 89-73, 93-69
SF sweeps = SD 88-72, SF 94-68

If the Braves sweep the Phillies, Atlanta wins the Wild Card. If the Braves wins 2/3 vs. the Phillies, Atlanta wins the Wild Card. If the Braves win just 1/3 vs. Phillies and San Diego wins 2 games or less vs. Giants, Atlanta wins the Wild Card. If the Braves lose all 3 to the Phillies and San Diego wins 1 game or less vs. Giants, Atlanta wins the Wild Card. If the Braves lose all 3 to the Phillies and the Padres sweep the Giants, Atlanta LOSES the Wild Card.

There still remains a couple 'tie' scenarios for the Wild Card. The most intriguing is if the Braves win just 1 of 3 vs. the Phillies AND the Padres sweep the Giants. That would make all 3 teams 91-71. As has been described all over, SF and SD would match-up in a 1 game playoff for the NL West title..then the loser of that game would play a 1 game playoff against the Braves in Atlanta for the Wild Card.

The short of it: Any combination of 2 Braves wins and Padres losses sends Atlanta to the playoffs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

1/2 Game Up, 5 To Go

So, I returned to Upstate, NY late Monday night after a few days in Orlando for work. (By the way – to me, the beginning of fall means 60 degree temperatures and changing leaves..not 90 degree heat with 700% Anyway, I kept track of the Braves enough to know they dropped 2 of 3 to the lowly Nationals. Fortunately, I got back in front of a television soon enough to see Omar Infante take advantage of Tommy Hanson’s dominate pitching with a walk-off single in the 11th.

I didn’t watch any of the games, so my only analysis comes from the box scores and comments/stories. It seems pretty simple - the offense still isn’t producing nearly enough while the pitching (outside of Tim Hudson) has still been pretty solid. Braves hitters have a .243/.314/.350 line with just 14 HR and a 3.4 runs per game average in 25 September games. Meanwhile the pitchers have a 3.65 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP (while the bullpen has put up a 2.30 ERA and 1.07 WHIP). Those numbers are skewed a bit as Tim Hudson as been lit up this month at 1-4 with a 6.10 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. With Martin Prado going down on Monday (even though his production has been off while he was battling his finger and groin issues), there will be even more pressure on the pitching staff to limit their opponents.

After the Cubs's win over the Padres last night, Atlanta has a ½ game Wild Card lead with 5 games left (all at home) to play. There are 2 against the Marlins and the 3-game regular season finale against the Phillies. The Padres have 6 games left, the Giants (leading the NL West) have 6 games left and have a ½ game ‘lead’ on the Braves, while the Rockies have all but fallen out of the race at 4.5 games back. One big thing works to the Braves advantage, schedule-wise. The Padres and Giants will end the season playing each other in a 3-game series at San Francisco. So those two teams will face the same situation that the Braves faced last week at Philadelphia: wins help their division lead (essentially making the Wild Card moot), but loses hurt both the division race the Wild Card chances. Therefore, if I’m doing my math correctly, if the Braves go at least 3-2 over the final 5 games, that all but guarantees a tie for the Wild Card at 91-71. The only exception is if both SF and SD win their next 3 games and then SD takes 2 of 3 in SF, as that would make both of those teams 92-70. (Frighteningly, there’s still the possibility of a 3-way tie at 92-70 for ATL, SF and SD). So, the Braves just need to WIN.

Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe will finish up the series against the Nationals each on short rest. Huddy needs to dig deep to reverse the performances he’s put up over the past month or so while Lowe needs to continue what he’s done this month. Victories in these two match-ups would be HUGE. It’s looking less and less like Jair Jurrjens can come back from his knee injury before the regular season ends, so right now Brandon Beachy is listed as the probable starter for Friday. The off day on Thursday means that Hanson and Hudson would be able to pitch on Saturday and Sunday on ‘regular’ rest.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bats Are Failing The Braves

If I were to say Monday night that the Braves pitchers (including two rookies making starts) would come out of this week’s three-game series at Philadelphia with just a 2.33 ERA while allowing a measly 3 runs per game average to the vaunted Phillies offense, you might reply ‘YES! We’re back in this division!’ However, when I follow-up by mentioning the .178 batting average and 4 total runs the Atlanta offense put together, you probably get the same sinking feeling that all Braves fans across the country felt Wednesday night.

The Phillies’ sweep of the Braves could not have come at a worse time. Atlanta’s now 6 games back of PHI in the NL East race, essentially ending any shot at the division title. As I mentioned last week, this series was very high risk-high reward for the team. Wins would have put them right back in the NL East race. But losses would not only hurt their division chances, it would also threaten their Wild Card hopes. Well, that's exactly what happened. The Braves are on life support with a razor-thin ½ game lead over the Giants in the Wild Card race. The Padres lead the NL West and are effectively tied games wise with the Braves (ATL 86-67, SD 85-66), while consecutive loses on Tuesday and Wednesday put the always-dangerous Rockies 3 games behind Atlanta.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Braves at Mets - 9/18/10 Gameday Photos

Since there's been little to cheer about the Braves over the past couple days ( least Beachy looked good enough and Freeman hit a home run?), I thought I'd do something to bring back more enjoyable times: all of 4 days ago during the series-sweep against the Mets.

So here are some pictures from my trip down to Citi Field on September 18th for the Braves win over the Muts Mets. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Braves Sweep! (With In-Person Review)

A Derrek Lee grand slam on Sunday capped off a series sweep of the Mets at Citi Field. The Braves received strong pitching (3.00 ERA), tremendous defense (0 errors and some dazzling plays) and enough timely offense (5.3 r/g) to shut down their division rivals. While the Mets aren’t exactly a great team this year, they’re a .500 club and have played very well at Citi Field this year, so the sweep is certainly impressive.

Derrek Lee’s blast placed on exclamation point on the recent improvements he’s made at the plate. After a painfully slow start, Lee’s numbers are finally starting to come around. Following Sunday's 2-5 performance, he’s now hitting .267 with 2 HR and 16 RBI as a Brave. While his power numbers aren’t where most Braves fans were hoping they’d be, his run production has been solid and he’s hitting nearly 20 points higher than he was with the Cubs this year. His average and RBI total are nearing the totals I wrote that the Braves needed to see when Frank Wren made the trade for the slugger. The Braves will need his RH middle of the order production to continue through the next 2 weeks.

Lee’s improvement has been complimented by a resurgent Nate McLouth and streaking Alex Gonzalez (both offensively and defensively). Those 5-6-7 hitters have made up for a cooling Martin Prado and Brian McCann. Prado has 4 hits in his last 24 AB (with 1 RBI) while McCann is hitting .228 in September. Infante and Heyward have still been getting on base enough, so it’d be nice to see Prado and McCann start driving them in again. As I wrote last week, there have been too many peaks and valleys for this offense and individual players specifically. It would be great to have 1-9 hitters firing on all cylinders over for the final 12 games of the regular season.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Braves at Pirates - The Pictures..Finally

So it's been more than a week since my trip to see the Braves in Pittsburgh, but I'm finally posting some pictures from Monday and Tuesday's games against the Pirates. Today's an off-day for Atlanta and I'm sure every Braves fans, included myself, are feeling as low as possible about the hopefully some shots of Major League Baseball's best stadium (and not the game results) will lift some spirits. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ummm Hello, There's Only 15 Games Left!?!

The Braves’ awful September continues. After treading water with their series split against the Cardinals, Atlanta dropped two of three to the NL East-worst Nationals..AT TURNER FIELD. The series started off well-enough with Derek Lowe pitching a masterpiece on Monday in a 4-0 Braves win. But both the pitching and hitting completely failed in the final two games as the team seems to have fallen on hard luck (at best) or is quickly spiraling down the drain and away from the playoffs (at worst). The Braves are just 6-9 this month while the Phillies are 11-3 (and they’re leading the Marlins tonight as I type). This team is playing its worst baseball of the season when it needs to be playing its best.

Without addressing possible issues with desire, drive, heart, etc., this team’s problem is quite simple: the once-strong starting pitching is struggling mightily and the average-at-best offense just does not have the ability to consistently bail the staff out. The offense might be performing a bit worse than they have earlier in the season, but I really think the poor pitching is simply exposing this season-long weakness. For the past few months there have been a number of bloggers and reporters talking about the team’s strong run differential and solid runs per game average. However, those stats just do not represent the real picture. There is NO offensive consistency. We’ve obviously seen a number of games where the Braves have scored 10, 11 or 12 runs. But much too often we see a line similar to today’s game: 2 runs, 10 hits, 1-11 with RISP and 7 LOB. It’s simple to average 5 runs per game when you score 12, then 1, then 2..but you’re really only in one of those games. There just haven’t been enough games this season where the hitters have plated 5-8 runs. Not only has the overall offense been horribly inconsistent, but individual hitters have been, too. Heyward, Prado, McCann, Gonzalez, etc. have all had too many big slumps to break up their hot streaks. Too many peaks and valleys and not enough high plateaus.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Braves Split Vs. Cardinals (aka Albert Pujols)

The Braves split their 4-game series with the Cardinals, dropping the first and last match-ups. Jair Jurrjens and Tim Hudson both were roughed up in their starts as the Braves starting rotation has regressed a bit from their early season dominance. For some reason the Braves hitters continue to make awful pitchers look great. After not being able to touch two Pirates pitchers last week with ERAs near 7.00, Atlanta again made a 7.00+ ERA pitcher in Kyle Lohse look great on Sunday. At least Alex Gonzalez’s walk-off blast on Saturday made the series palatable. With Sunday’s loss, the Braves fell out of their NL East first place tie with the Phillies and now sit one game behind the lead. They’re ahead in the wild card race, but the Giants and Padres (tied for the NL West lead) are just one game back while the Rockies’ current 10-game winning streak has them just two and a half games behind.

One big positive about the Cardinals series (other than the explosive Craig Kimbrel) has been the apparent re-emergence of Nate McLouth. The former All-Star went 6-11 with 2 HR and 4 RBI hitting out of the 6 spot in the line-up against the Cardinals. We know Nate always brings a solid glove, so this could be a huge boost for the Braves headed into the last few weeks of the season..especially when the team’s other CF options are Rick Ankiel and Melky Cabrera. The last 18 games will be very telling for Nate in his battle to maintain a Braves roster spot next season. He’s set to make $6.5m in 2011, so it’s nice to see him start producing.

While McLouth has been improving, Melky Cabrera has quickly been regressing. Melky went 1-15 with 1 RBI in the series. For some reason, Bobby keeps sending him out there. I understand your other options aren’t too great (basically Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske), but between his slow (or pick) defense and lack of hitting, he continues to show why he shouldn’t be starting. Perhaps another LF option would be Omar Infante, with Brooks Conrad at 3B, but that’s probably a better conversation for next year (assuming Chipper’s able to comeback at 3B).

The Braves will stay at Turner Field this week for a three game series against the NL East basement Washington Nationals. Essentially every series at this point in the season is a near must-win, but playing a team with .420 winning percentage at home where you’re 51-21 really needs to bring two, if not three, wins. Lowe, Jurrjens and Minor will face Maya (7.20 ERA..oh boy), Hernandez and Lannan.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Went To Pittsburgh, Left In 2nd Place

The Braves went into Pittsburgh on Labor Day on the heels of a tough series loss at Florida hoping for a sweep but desperately needing at least a series win. Instead, they departed the Steel City just barely avoiding getting swept themselves and with a 2nd place standing. And I was there to see it all go down.

Monday’s match-up saw Tommy Hanson throw an effective 6 IP, 3 R (2 ER), 4 H, 4K, 2 BB. Unfortunately the offense didn’t show up to support him. Atlanta got its base runners with 8 hits and 3 walks, but going 0-6 with RISP and 11 LOB lead to just 1 run (on a sacrifice fly). If possible, Tuesday’s affair was even worse. Team ace Tim Hudson took a perfect game into the 5th inning, but then was tagged for 4 ER in a disastrous 7th inning. Braves bats managed just 5 hits (0-3 with RISP, 6 LOB) while getting shut out against the MLB’s worst team. The impotent offensive performance was capped off with a back-breaking Derrek Lee GIDP with the bases loaded on Tuesday. If you’re keeping track, that’s just 1 run over 2 games. To add insult to injury, that 1 total run came against two Pirates starting pitchers with ERAs of about 6.00. Kind of tough to accept if you’re a Braves fan.

Thanks Chipper!
The two losses meant that the most exciting part of the games for me was getting tossed a torn-up BP ball from Chipper and PNC Park’s “Beers of the Burgh” vendor station. I first attended a Braves vs. Pirates game in the 2006 season and PNC Park continues to live up to its billing as one of the best ballparks in all of baseball. It has a breathtaking view of the Pittsburgh skyline looking over the Alleghany River and some great food and drink options. While the amenities are definitely great, the best part of the park is probably the small crowds. Entering and exiting was as quick and easy as it gets and the vending lines were essentially non-existent. It’s much easier to enjoy a game when you have little to no people to contend with.

Perhaps the only negative was dealing with the ever-persistent autograph seeker/hawkers. Being 1,000+ miles away from Turner Field here in Upstate, NY means I don’t get to see too many Braves games in person (these were my 4th and 5th this year), so I like to get to the stadium as early as possible to watch batting practice. Unfortunately I have to ‘battle’ with those looking to get any autograph possible to add to their eBay store. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a quick picture or autograph when the opportunity presents itself, but it gets frustrating looking for a spot near home plate while nearly everyone else is pulling out their team rosters and binders full of baseball cards. I understand that’s part of going to games, but I still don’t like it.

The Braves ended the Pirates series with a 9-1 win (typical ATL offense..1 R, 0 R, 9 R) for Derek Lowe to go 2-4 on their 6 game road trip. The next 7 games will be home at Turner where the Braves are still an MLB-best 49-19. 4 wins are all but necessary, but 5+ wins would certainly be helpful. Jurrjens, Minor, Hanson and Hudson will face Wainwright, Carpenter, Westbrook and TBA, respectively.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Thank You Mets

Atlanta picked up another series win this week as they took 3 of 4 from the Mets at Turner Field. The first three games saw some of the most complete 9 innings the team has put forward this season, capped off by a Tommy Hanson one-hit (7 IP) performance on Wednesday. The Braves were in position for the sweep with Tim Hudson on the mound Thursday, but a 4-2 loss stymied that chance. Huddy was roughed up a bit, surrendering 4 R (3 ER) over 7 IP, but the defense (2 errors) and offense (just 7 hits, 1-3 with RISP) failed to pick-up the traditionally strong pitching staff.

Freddie Freeman made his MLB debut on Friday and while he went 0-3, he had two very well hit balls (the Mets scouted him perfectly) and played a solid 1B when he was tested. With Derrek Lee hitting just .214, 0 HR in 12 games with the Braves, we may see Freeman given increasing opportunities over the next month, especially against RHP.

The other player I have to write about is Melky Cabrera. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with him this season. He was swinging the bat well in June and July and has had a handful of clutch last at-bat/walk-off displays (though who on the team hasn’t?), but I just can’t stand his defense. He really might be the slowest starting outfielder (especially CF) in the game. His lack of speed turns too many singles into doubles and doubles into triples, as evidenced by Carlos Beltran’s 1st inning triple on Thursday. I understand Rick Ankiel doesn’t bring much to the plate (.232/.323/.341 with ATL), but his defense more than makes up for any advantage Melky brings with his bat. Ankiel covers MUCH more ground and certainly has a better arm (though Melky has made some decent throws). It’s somewhat manageable with Melky in LF and Ankiel in CF, but there’s just no benefit to having Melky in CF (yes, even with Ankiel hitting .181/.281/.200 vs. LHP..Melky’s not overwhelmingly better at .231/.310/.338). Man, I wish Nate McLouth could figure out how to hit again.

Despite the series win, Thursday’s poor performance sends the Braves to Florida for their three-game series against the Marlins on a bit of a low note. Coupled with the Phillies impressive (though annoying) comeback in their make-up game at Colorado, the Braves NL East lead has dropped to 2 games. Atlanta’s historically had a tough time in Florida, so this will likely be a difficult series. The Phillies playing a three-game series against the Brewers in PHI doesn’t help much either. The Braves will send up Kawakami (filling in for an ailing Lowe), Jurrjens and Minor to face Miller, Johnson (ugh) and Sanabia.